Don’t rely overly on Natural Writing Skills

We know that some people are just good with words. Writing comes easily to them. While some of us have to struggle to give right expressions to their thoughts, these people with natural writing skills are able to do it without having to consciously try.

As readers, at some point of time or the other, we all have been fascinated by a piece of writing, which conveys its meaning so beautifully that we wonder why we did not write it that way. Its not that we got the idea a little late. Its just that the writer simply knew how to express it better than us!

Now, if you are one of those people who have the natural writing skills, it makes obvious sense for you to be writing a book. Your skill will be your biggest asset.

However, if you are trying to do it completely on your own, you need to be aware of a mistake many first time writers, especially those who have not been exposed to writing or publishing in a formal manner, tend to commit. Over-rating natural writing skills!

Of course, there are exceptions to everything. But for most people it is important to keep in mind that the product of one time writing is not ready for an average reader. Even with the best writing skills, here are some of the common language issues that will be there in the manuscript

  • You might have penned down ramblings too exactly. The sentences would have become too long with many clauses, which can be interpreted in different combinations. And even with the best command of grammar, you would have lost track of related subjects, objects, verbs, tense, voice and singular vs. plural.
  • If you do not think in the same language that you are writing in (can be the case with many Indians writing in English), the constructions of your thought language would have made their way into your writing, which would definitely strike as odd or even funny to the reader. Not the effect you wanted to create!
  • There would be missing or wrong punctuations, words spelled wrong which spell checker can not catch (‘there’ instead of ‘their’) or an unintentional wrong use of word which make the meaning just opposite to what you intended to say. Before you know it, the reader has put down your book with a “Never Again” feeling.

The issues we have pointed here are mostly language related. There would also be issues around consistency of plot and characters (for fiction), consistency of message and correctness of information (for non-fiction), overall narration, organization of chapters etc.

With self publishing, there is no one to really check you and it is easy to give in to the temptation of publishing your unaltered work – “natural writing”. If you are doing it more for fun and self-satisfaction, then it may be fine that way. But if you want others to read it, the language issues we have pointed out should be the least you must take care of.

What this means is that the manuscript must be re-read several times by you and you should not be shy of editing and rewriting ruthlessly if need be. In an ideal scenario, after you are done from your side you should also take the book through a professional editor. If professional editor is not affordable, then find a friend/relative who is good with language and will give honest feedback about writing and language. Good news with self publishing is that you still retain the final control on your manuscript. If you don’t want to accept changes suggested by the editor you are free to do so. But it is important to take an informed decision. Not knowing what could be wrong will not do justice to your book.

All of this does not mean that you have produce books which are written like school essays in such a grammatically and politically correct language that no one ever talks in. Of course not! Refining and rewriting the manuscript does not mean that it has to lose your style. If your character are not supposed to speak correct language, then they should not. If certain portions are there to convey ramblings, then they should be written like ramblings. The idea, rather, is that none of this should happen in an unintended fashion. In general, a qualified editor would understand the difference between what comes due to writing style and what comes due to wrong way of writing it. In cases where she does not, you retain the ultimate power anyway.

So, pick up the manuscript you did not bother to read since you have finished it and get started on it!

P. S. How much editing do you think the current piece has gone through? Can it do with more? Suggest through comments the parts/sentences you would rewrite. Not abstract suggestions. Give the actual rewritten text. Focus on how language could be made better, more readable etc. apart from the grammatical errors.


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4 thoughts on “Don’t rely overly on Natural Writing Skills

  1. Shwetal Mody November 26, 2009 at 12:36 pm Reply

    After reading this article,I noticed a few errors and awkward sentence constructions. Here are some of the changes I would like to suggest:

    -In the 4th para “However, if you are trying to..” the ending words should be “tend to make” instead of ‘tend to commit’ as ‘Commit’ is generally used with ‘error’… (as in ‘you commit an error, but you make a mistake).

    -In the 5th para, “here are some of the… there in the manuscript” can be rewritten as “here are some of the common language issues that should be avoided in the manuscript”.

    -The 3rd bullet point can be rewritten as “There would be missing or wrong punctuations,words spelt wrongly, that the spell checker cannot catch, (…….)or an unintentional wrong use of words, which can mean exactly the opposite of what you intended to convey”

    – “the issues we have pointed OUT here are mostly….” (the word ‘out’ is missing in the sentence)

    – “if A professional editor…” ( ‘a’ is missing )

    -The first sentence in the penultimate para “all this does not mean…” can be rewritten as “All this does not mean that you have to produce books which are written like school essays in an overtly grammatically and politically correct language that no one ever uses.”

    -The 4th line in the same para mentioned above has the word ‘character’. It should be ‘characters’.

    -The last few lines of this para can be rewritten as “In general, a qualified editor would be able to distinguish between an intentional error (in keeping with the writing style) and one that has occured due to lack of adequate knowledge of the language on the writer’s part.”

    -In the last sentence “so pick up…” the word ‘have’ has been wrongly used. It should read “..did not bother to read since you finished it..”

    Shwetal Mody.

  2. […] Don’t rely overly on Natural Writing Skills Categories: Editing, Self Publishing, Writing Tags: book editing, book writing, content, Editing Comments (3) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

  3. Ananth March 5, 2010 at 8:53 pm Reply

    Thank you for your tips on writing 🙂

  4. Shwetal Mody March 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm Reply

    Thanks Anant. Glad to know someone bothered to read all that!

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